1st Sgt. Jim Tankersley, who lives in Brookside Bluff Condominium Park north of Arcadia, Fla. was in charge of ground communications for the 95th Infantry Division’s artillery battalion. He and a squad of 25 soldiers laid and maintained the phone cables connecting division headquarters with front line troops during some of the major battles in Europe in World War II.
Tankersley’s division served with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in France to begin with. After the Battle of the Bulge the 95th was transferred to Gen. Omar Bradley’s 9th Army, fighting its way across Germany until war’s end.
“Three weeks after landing in France in August 1944 with Patton, the general called all his unit commanders and NCOs together in the courtyard of a little French town that was ankle-deep in mud and read us the riot act,” he recalled 65-years later. “Standing on a concrete base where a statue once stood, Patton, wearing jodhpurs, knee length brown leather boots, a pair of ivory handled revolvers and a shiny green helmet, wanted to make it clear what he expected of us.
“’I want you to go out and kill those German bastards. If you can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can,’ he said. ‘You hear about waiting until you see the whites of their eyes before firing your weapon. Don’t do that, start firing and walking and firing some more and don’t worry about seeing the whites of their eyes.’”
Tankersley and the soldiers of the 95th Division got a chance to test Patton’s battle tactics during the battle to take the 12th Century forts surrounding Metez, France in November 1944.
“When the 95th moved into position in front of Metz the 5th and 9th Divisions had been trying to capture the city from the Germans for a month. They had established a beachhead along the Mozelle River that runs in front of the old French city,” the 88-year-old former sergeant said. “Patton ordered us to take Metz in a frontal assault. Nobody had ever taken the city with a frontal attack.”
A lot of 95th Division soldiers died in the two weeks it took the division to capture the city. Metez had originally been built as a series of forts by the French starting in the 12th Century. The Germans improved the fortifications after taking France during World War II.
“They built disappearing pill boxes with a 50 caliber machine gun and artillery that also disappeared into a hole after firing its rounds,” Tankersley explained. “Finally, the 95th and the other two divisions encircled the forts and attacked them from the rear. When the forts fell a lot of German soldiers were taken prisoner.”
Immediately after Metz the 95th Division moved into the Saar Valley after fighting its way through the Siegfried Line at Saarlauter, Germany. Saarlauter was about the size of Port Charlotte, Fla.
“The town was part of the Siegfried Line with massive stone forts and heavy artillery and machine guns,” Tankersley said. “We had just captured a bridge across the Saar River into Saarlauter when the “Battle of the Bulge” broke out. Patton turned his 3rd Army around and headed back to Bastogne, Belgium to relieve the pressure on the 101st Airborne Division.”
It was December 1944; the weather was miserable—colder than it had been in 50 years in Europe with snow all over the ground.
“We forced marched back to Bastogne, but it was a tank battalion, attached to the 95th, that broke through the German lines at Bastogne and relieved the 101st,” he said. “During the battle Patton gave an Army chaplain an hour to write a prayer calling for better weather and the success of American forces. The general used the prayer –the weather cleared and American forces won the battle.”
Immediately after the Battle of the Bulge, the 95th Division was transferred to Gen. Omar Bradley’s 9th Army in Europe.
“Unlike Patton, Bradley was a down to earth, low key guy. There was no flashiness with him. He planned everything and knew where he was going and what he was doing,” Tankersley said.
With Bradley the 95th Division fought its way into the Ruhr Valley, Germany’s most heavily industrialized area. They went from one town to another capturing them as they went.
“On V-E Day (Victory in Europe) we were in some little town in the Ruhr Valley that I can’t remember the name of any more, along the Elbe River,” he said. “The 95th Division became the third division shipped back to the States. The first two divisions were sent directly to the South Pacific, but we were sent back to Boston.
“They were really partying when we sailed into Boston Harbor. Fire boats spraying water everywhere came to meet us. We were given as much steak and ice cream as we could eat when we got into port.”
Tankersley and the soldiers of the 95th Division got a 30 day leave to go home. They were to report back to Camp Shelby, Miss. where they would be reassigned to the Pacific.
It never happened. V-J Day (Victory over Japan) occurred. The war was over.
Tankersley took the G.I. Bill, graduated with a degree in civil engineering. He spent the next 32 years working for Procter & Gamble as an engineer who designed the company’s food processing equipment.
He and his wife, Myrna, retired to Brookside Bluff a decade ago.
Name: James Tankersley
D.O.B: 3 Aug. 1921
D.o.D: 12 Oct. 2014
Current: Brookside Bluff Mobile Home Park, Arcadia, Fla.
Entered Service: 6 Aug. 1942
Rank: 1st Sergeant
Unit: 95th Infantry Division
Commendations: Bronze Star Medal at Metz, France; three Bronze Battle stars for battles he participated in the Rhineland, Northern France and Central European Theatres; World War II Victory Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
This story was first printed in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, January 14, 2009 and is republished with permission.
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